Lance Archer has been an imposing presence in New Japan rings for close to a decade. As half of Killer Elite Squad, Archer has dominated, but he’s also impressed in singles competition. With G1 Climax 29 right around the corner, Archer put in impressive performances in the New Japan Cup, and has even been a convincing sales force in the streets of Dallas, where he’s been giving fans the opportunity to buy their tickets to the G1 opening day in person. We caught up with Lance to discuss his career from high school baseball field to the major wrestling leagues in America and Japan.
— Last time we saw you in New Japan, you had a match with Will Ospreay (watch here!) that was very well received. How do you feel, reflecting back on that match?
Archer: It was a lot of fun. Would have been more fun if I’d have won.. But Will is one of those talents that’s the future of pro wrestling. I’ve been in the business for nearly 19 years, so it’s fun to prove to myself, and the wrestling world that I can keep up with the future of wrestling. Maybe I surprised a few people. I wasn’t surprised, I know what I can do, but it was fun to prove myself at a high level against the future of NJPW. I loved every bit of it, except the part when I lost.
— Let’s talk about your life story a little bit. You’re from Texas originally?
Archer: A very small town in Texas, very rustic. Everybody knows everybody. My father was the local chemist, worked in the local pharmacy. So everybody knew my dad. I wasn’t a wrestling fan when I was a kid, I loved American football. So that’s what I wanted to do as a kid. I played football and baseball in high school, and then focused on football in university.
— Did you follow your father and study science in college?
Archer: No, I have a degree in English. If I didn’t go into pro wrestling or football, I wanted to be a teacher or a coach. Very different to my family; my father, grandfather and great grandfather were all chemists.
— But you studied hard?
Archer: My father very much wanted me to finish school.
— You were a pitcher in baseball?
Archer: Yeah, at a high school varsity level. I had a good curve ball, made a lot of other players duck at times because they were scared of the ball. Pro pitchers make a lot of money, so sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I stuck with baseball! I’ve watched a few games here in Yokohama or Tokyo Dome. I’m actually not much of a fan, but I love watching games live because of the atmosphere. All the fans singing, there’s a team spirit that you don’t get in the US, so it’s much more fun.
— You blend agility and size so well, your athletic background is very obvious.
Archer: When I got into pro wrestling I think all the training I did in other sports really became useful.
— You weren’t a fan of pro wrestling as a young kid, so when did you first encounter it?
Archer: I was a junior in high school, watching WCW. Maybe I saw Nagata then.. Liger, too perhaps! But my favourite was Sting. This was him against the nWo. I really enjoyed the Brandon Lee movie ‘The Crow’, and to see him take on that character, that made me a super fan.
— Was it just WCW, or WWE as well? What other wrestlers did you like?
Archer: Not at first, but every fan in that era fell into watching both. The Undertaker, especially. I liked the mysterious characters I guess.
— So when did you decide to become a pro wrestler?
Archer: I stopped playing American football during university, but I still wanted to do something athletic. Shawn Michaels, who had a wrestling school in San Antonio, invited me to come train, but for a poor college student, it was much too expensive. I was working in nightclubs in Austin and the owner of a club I was working at knew somebody who was starting up a wrestling school, the South West Wrestling Federation, a little indie.
— So it wasn’t quite like a decision to change your career so much as a desire to keep active?
Archer: Well, I loved wrestling as a fan, and then I had an opportunity to train. Many wrestlers in the US start on the independent level, so at the start of their careers, it’s more a passion project, like people starting up a band.
— Any interesting stories from your time as a bouncer?
Archer: Well, there are two types of bouncer: people who like to start fights and people who stop them (laughs)! I was always the second type. I didn’t hit people because I never had to. I just picked them up and took them to the door. But I remember one time- we had this private table in our club. There was one group of guys there, and then another group comes in, they’re looking over and then they start yelling and fighting. Now these guys are tiny dudes. They never tried to hit me, I just picked them up by their shirts and -whoomp- tossed them out.
— Do you still remember your debut match?
Archer: Oh, yeah. There were maybe 2, 300 people. It was at a car festival, and there were lots of attractions going on, wrestling was one of them. My opponent was this guy called Tarzan Taylor, and I was calling myself Lance Steele, heh. I was super nervous, but my opponent was a very old school guy. Got the fans riled up and then when I got in there, they really loved me.
— You were on the indie scene for about four years?
Archer: Before joining TNA, yeah. I was bouncing and wrestling. Even in TNA, I was still working as a bouncer. It was easy money, and TNA at the time were quite new, so they didn’t pay that much.
— How did you get into TNA?
Archer: I was at an autograph show, and there were a lot of people from TNA there doing meet and greets. One of the girls from TNA there asked me why I hadn’t joined yet and I said I’d tried and it didn’t work out. She asked me to give her a video and pictures, and a few days later I got asked to do a tryout. So I drove from Dallas to Nashville, by myself, for nine and a half hours.
— How was that balance, being a bouncer and pro wrestler?
Archer: Well, at the start it was just Nashville on a Wednesday nights. Even when they started in Orlando, there were no houseshows, just fly to Nashville Wednesday, Orlando Thrusday, then home on Friday. Then I could work in the club or take indie bookings so it was a very open schedule.
— There were a lot of popular wrestlers there with you. What did you learn there?
Archer: At the time, the indies didn’t have TV, So I really learned how to wrestle for TV in TNA. In the US you perform more for the camera than the people in the crowd, so that’s the biggest learning curve. Sting, Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett obviously, Dutch Mantel, Dusty Rhodes, they were all there to help me a lot. Lots of good minds.
— How was it to work with Sting, given that you were such a fan?
Archer: My best moment with Sting was when they made a little movie, this kind of biopic of him. I go to be in it and hit him with a chair. That made me so happy (laughs)! He and his family actually live very near me now. Really nice guy.
— Lots of NJPW wrestlers wrestled in TNA back in the day..
Archer: Yeah, I remember meeting (Tiger) Hattori there, Tanahashi obviously. I remember talking to Tanahashi and Hattori and they asked me if I’d ever been to Japan. I hadn’t at the time, and didn’t know who I was talking to then!
— You started wrestling in Japan after TNA?
Archer: I did some Japanese independents while still with TNA, and then All Japan in 2009. Very short trips, with AJPW it was just two weeks. Vader made arrangements for me to join Voodoo Murders. Suzuki was in AJPW at the time as Triple Crown Champion. He was my first match in Japan, actually.
— Destiny! What did you think of Suzuki at first?
Archer: I didn’t know much about his history at first. So I remember he was in the ring beating up my partner, I came in to kick him and break it up- he just looks at me, doesn’t break his hold on the my partner. It was just like ‘oh, sorry’..
— How did you come to terms with the style in Japan?
Archer: I wasn’t a fan coming up, and I really didn’t see myself in Japan. It was coming here that made me fall in love with the style of it. It changed my outlook.
— You wrestled in Japan for a while and then joined WWE in 2009.
Archer: I got an offer, signed, but I was only there for a year and a half before I got released. At the time, there were a lot of rules there. I was told ‘no’ an awful lot, so it was very difficult. But I got to be in a battle royal at Wrestlemania.. It was a good experience, all in all. Harry (Davey Boy Smith Junior) was there at the time. We weren’t friends per se, but friendly.
— Finally, you came to New Japan. You debuted at an event in the US?
Archer: Yeah, attacking Kojima.
–What image did you have of NJPW at the time?
Archer: I didn’t know Japanese wrestling at the time in full, but I knew it was the biggest company in Japan. MVP had gone there from WWE and said lots of good things.
–Were you nervous to start in NJPW?
Archer: No, it was exciting. I didn’t get to show myself in WWE, so to be able to prove myself in New Japan it was very exciting.
— You were one of the first members of Suzuki Gun. Can you describe your relationship with him?
Archer: He’s a father figure to me in wrestling. He’s taken such good care of me and all the members of Suzuki Gun. He’s offered a lot of advice, about how to protect my character. He has such a high level of respect for all of pro wrestling so he’s very eager to give advice. In Suzuki Gun, in NJPW, it’s really been the best time of my career.
— A lot of foreign wrestlers build up their career in Japan in order to become successful elsewhere..
Archer: For me, it might be that I end my career in Japan. I’d be very happy with that. If I had started in Japan and then gone to WWE, it would have been a different story. My confidence now is so high, which it wasn’t when I was over there before. I’m a veteran now, but I’m always working hard to prove myself again and again, which is why I’m proud of that match with Ospreay.
— One of the people you’ve had a chance to work with in Japan was Yoshihiro Takayama, who is now sadly hospitalized. What can you tell us about him?
Archer: To me, Takayama is very special. My first G1 I wrestled him in Ryogoku, we challenged for the tag belts together. But my favourite memory of him was when we were in Suzuki Gun we were out eating and drinking. It was my birthday, and we were out together. Suzuki’s friend was with us, too. At one point he gets a phone call, chats a bit, and then calls ‘Lance!’ What? He hands me the phone, and I have no clue what’s going on. I take it, like ‘hello?’ and it’s Takayama, singing ‘happy birthday to you…’ He’s so sweet, so special. Big love for Takayama. So I pray for him a lot and I hope his fighting spirit sees him back on his feet someday.
— You started Killer Elite Squad in 2012. What did you think about Davey Boy Smith when you first started together?
Archer: We both wanted to prove ourselves I think. He has a famous name of course, a famous father to live up to. I wanted to show that my time in WWE wasn’t everything, so we were both motivated to do something special. Sometimes tag partners don’t get on well out of the ring, but we both had a goal that brought us together.
— Smith is a fair bit younger than you, but your personalities seem to gel..
Archer: When it comes to wrestling, yes, but out of the ring, not really! I’m a little more serious perhaps… but I think it’s a partnership. I’m not leading the team, it’s 50:50, which makes it a good team I think.
— Do you have any favourite matches together?
Archer: Oh, man, so many! We had lots of great matches with Tenzan and Kojima.. But my number one memory would be my first Wrestle Kingdom. Against Anderson and Goto, we went in as champions and we kept the titles. And I got to ride a cool motorcycle (laughs)! As a singles, I don’t have too many matches, but the G1s have let me wrestle Okada, Tanahashi, AJ Styles which was my favourite match before Will Ospreay. I challenged Nakamura once for the Intercontinental title.
Of course, I want to be heavyweight champion, but if I have any chance to go for any singles title in the future, I want to take that chance. Be prepared to keep being surprised by me because I’m not going anywhere any time soon.